Sunday, August 15, 2010

Philadelphia's Italian Market

Back in 1976 the movie Rocky came out. If you don't remember, it was about a small-time boxer from Philadelphia that got the opportunity of a lifetime to fight the heavyweight champion of the world.

Rocky ended up being a big hit here in Philadelphia for a couple of reasons. For one, Philadelphia LOVES to root for the underdog and this movie is the classic underdog story of the little guy who gets to take on the man. The other reason is that, throughout the movie, there are scenes showing the city, especially when Rocky is training for the big fight. The most memorable is, for sure, when Rocky runs up the steps of the art museum. Another scene that showed a well-known area of Philadelphia is when he runs through the Italian Market:

I was in the area this past week so I thought I'd stop by to check it out. The Italian Market is America's oldest outdoor market and is located on south 9th street just past the original boundaries of the city in what was, and still is, a largely immigrant neighborhood. This photo shows what the market looks like today. As you can see, it's been cleaned up a bunch since the movie was filmed here.

The "market" is a combination of outdoor stands selling fruit, vegetables, and household items as well as a series of (indoor) stores that have meat, cheeses, and other foods for sale. These are some of the outdoor stalls:

This is one of the inside of one of the shops that now sell gourmet food:

The area has always been an immigrant neighborhood, first populated by Italians (thus the name Italian Market). More recently the face of the neighborhood has started to diversify. You now have Mexicans/Latinos, Vietnamese, Koreans, among others. In my opinion, it's made it even more interesting. Here's a Mexican Bakery and food store that I saw that looked good:

At one end of the market is a giant mural of Frank Rizzo, a former mayor of the city. If you're not from Philadelphia, you've probably never heard of him. If you are familiar with him, you'll know that he's either loved or hated by many. To be honest, I was too young when he was in office but, even today, I find it funny, but not surprising, that he is in this mural. Like Rocky, he's a beloved native son.

Philadelphia's Italian Market is not quite as scenic as the La Boqueria, but it's definitely a cool little piece of history in a city full of history. I especially love how the immigration mix has changed over time and that the market reflects those changes. If you find yourself retracing Rocky's training routine, make sure to stop by the market for some snacks before your run up the steps at the art museum.

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